Last week, on the LINKS page of this blog, I added a post written by Bill Ferriter on his Tempered Radical blog. It was about “unit overview sheets,” three words that meant a whole lot of nothing to me. Ferriter originally wrote about a dust-up he had with his principal about posting learning objectives on the board each day. It wasn’t the concept that Ferriter objected to — he realized sharing objectives with students is good practice — it was the way the objectives were written he detested.
So, like any teacher on a mission, Ferriter embarked on some research of his own. He found what he was looking for in a book by Rick Stiggins, one that proposed we write objectives in student-friendly language. From there, Ferriter did a little customization to fit his classroom needs. Here’s Ferriter’s original 2008 blog post, including follow-ups here and most recently here.
The good news? Between its inception five years ago and today, Ferriter is still holding to this practice. How many of us can say the same of “new ideas” we’ve “adopted” in our teaching pasts, especially after one-and-done workshops? They often wind up in the New Ideas Orphanage, just down the street from the Good Intentions Hotel.
What I like about Ferriter’s overview sheets (here’s a blank template I whipped up for ready use) is how they accomplish two things at once. They force teachers to lay out specific learning objectives that are linked to standards (Common Core standards going forward) and, in doing so, they create transparency for students and parents as well. The best twist is the continuum in the shape of an arrow. On one end it reads “New to Me” and on the other “I Got This!” Ferriter has his students take these out every day before his lesson begins. Then, at the end of eaach class, students pencil in where they are on the continuum.
Can you say, “Instant feedback”? If you keep the sheets in a bin in the classroom, it’s yours to review any time you wish. It’s also there for quick pick-up or classroom volunteer distribution each day.
Taking a closer look at the overview sheet, you’ll see that Ferriter provides a space for essential and/or guiding questions at the top. At the bottom, another space lists “Vocabulary to Master.” All on one page yet. Well, that’s if your unit can fit on one page. I can see how it might go to another, but I can also see flexibility in the use of these sheets. Could they be adapted for a single lesson? Probably. How about for a particular piece of literature. Why not?
You could write questions for, say, “The Tell-Tale Heart” on top and provide some of Edgar Allan Poe’s challenging vocabulary on the bottom. Whatever you’re teaching — point of view, irony, mood, etc., can be listed as “Learning Targets.” Through the continuum, you may find that some students understand point of view perfectly on the first day but are still struggling mightily with irony. Irony does that to kids. The stuff is merciless.
So, my latest resolution is to try overview sheets myself. I’ll be writing one up this week for our little MCAS unit (such a pleasure it is!) scheduled for lift-off before Friday. Standardized tests have their own language too, after all, just like Edgar Allan Poe. In fact, by wild coincidence, “POE” (process of elimination) is one of the terms the MCAS unit happens to feature. Serendipity, thy name lies there beneath the floorboards! Tear up the planks! — here, here! Dissemble no more!
Anyway, I hope you’ll try the overview sheet on for size, too. Tell you what. Let me know how it goes in your class, and I’ll let you know how it goes in mine. And, whatever you do, be sure to whistle as you pass the Good Intentions Hotel….